HE'S JUST RUN a 12-km marathon in hometown Gwalior, in memory of his late grandfather Maharaja Madhavrao Scindia, former Union Minister of Civil Aviation, who passed away in a plane crash in 2001. “It was his birth anniversary, and it was a special marathon for unity, where we had around 6,000 present,” says the 27-year-old Yale-educated Yuvraj Mahanaaryaman Scindia of Gwalior, son of Maharaja Jyotiraditya Scindia of Gwalior, Union Minister of Civil Aviation. Aaryaman, as he’s known to friends and family, is on the move these days, juggling his time between Gwalior, Delhi, and whichever city he’s needed in. He runs two start-ups (one of which is a social enterprise that works for fruit and vegetable vendors in four cities), fosters and aids sportspersons in Madhya Pradesh, works with an NGO to tech-enable government schools, and takes care of family properties in Gwalior, including the European-style 400-room Jai Vilas Palace.

After graduating from a U.S. college in 2019, Aaryaman worked with Boston Consulting Group, but left three and a half years ago, shortly before the pandemic struck. Passionate about both music and food, he then went on to launch music festival Cymbal (with his friend Nakul Mehan), and Pravaas with Mumbai-based Chef Prateek Sadhu, which kicked off at his home, Jai Vilas Palace, in 2021. A year later it was held in Kasauli. Since then, Pravaas, a curation of multi-sensory experiences with a highlight on food, supplemented by music, art, heritage and culture, has changed its identity somewhat. “We’ve raised money and pivoted the model, giving Pravaas a new identity,” says Aaryaman. “We now have multiple streams, which does all our experiences in unique locations, tied with the food and culture.”

“The Pravaas journeys will now happen just once or twice a year,” adds Aaryaman, who is launching a brand-new IP — Pravaas Trails, which focuses on food trails of a particular city such as Lucknow, Srinagar, or parts of Meghalaya. The experience costs between ₹75,000 to ₹2 lakh per person, stay and travel excluded.

A view of the Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior.
A view of the Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior.

At the 2021 Pravaas experience at Jai Vilas palace, Aaryaman had got his mother Maharani Priyadarshini Raje Scindia to provide the crockery for the special food tasting — she works with local craftsmen of Gwalior and Madhya Pradesh to create vessels and plates by local pottery-makers and stone artisans, among other artefacts.

Aaryaman’s start-up, MyMandi, a B2B2C marketplace, is an online aggregator that works with vegetable/fruit vendors and the cart-pusher community to distribute fresh produce across India in a cost-effective way. “Post-Covid, I had to start something on my own, committed to a particular cause, but it had to have a business foundation,” says Aaryaman. “At that point there was a rise in B2C delivery platforms, which led to bubbles in valuations across the sector. A lot of companies didn’t get it right — they started bleeding due to high logistics cost and wastage of fresh produce; they had to raise money at crazy valuations.” Working at the BCG, analysing data, it struck Aaryaman that there had to be a better way.

It was while spending time in Gwalior that Aaryaman and his close friend Suryansh Rana (co-founder at MyMandi), started observing Tier-II city trends. “We believed that the growth story in India will come from Tier-II cities, which are 80% of the population,” says Aaryaman. “We realised each city has a large number of thelawallas (vegetable vendor/cart pushers). And they are already the largest distribution system of fresh produce in India today.” That was when MyMandi was born.

By providing a procurement service for thelawallas, MyMandi enables them to purchase fresh produce at a lower cost and receive it directly from the mandi, thereby minimising wastage. The entire model involves buying the produce in bulk, using economies of scale to get better margins, and delivering to thelawallas on a dedicated route. “They would spend 8-9 hours looking for good produce, and saved around ₹15,000 a month on transport costs,” says Aaryaman. “A single thelawalla would buy 10 kg of produce; we buy 1 tonne, so there’s an aggregation of 100 thelawallas. We sort it, pack it and send it to them, so there’s also less wastage. We are currently operating in four cities — Jaipur, Nagpur, Gwalior, and Agra, and plan to break-even by January 2024.”

The toy train used to serve royal guests at Jai Vilas Palace.
The toy train used to serve royal guests at Jai Vilas Palace.

Revenue-wise, Aaryaman says it’s been growing from ₹70 lakh a month to ₹80-85, and is now around ₹1 crore. “By December-January, we want to hit ₹5 crore per month,” he says. He’s working on a B2B app as well, for the thelawallas to place their orders online, enabling digital transactions, and data analytics. He’s looking to partner with EV companies to build special carts to deliver other FMCG products — turning them into mobile kirana stores.

The company received ₹4.2 crore funding in July last year. It is now raising a fresh round of $1 million to invest in technology to enhance forecasting power, and know who is buying what produce from where, to optimise the basket. The company intends to integrate benefits such as health insurance, banking systems, UPI, and mobility, becoming a gateway for companies to sell to the underserved thelawalla community. Even within the company, there will be upskilling. “We will start people as sorters and packagers at a minimum wage, and they move up to being managers and regional heads, and start earning 10 or 15 times what they are being paid,” says Aaryaman. He currently has 150 employees in four cities, a number set to rise as need for manpower goes up.

His mother Priyadarshini has renovated large portions of the palace, including Aaryaman’s most cherished spot — the royal kitchen, with its English and French touches and a giant Dutch oven, cooking ranges with gas that are on display for the public (parts of the palace are open to visitors — some 25 rooms, forming the Jivaji Rao Scindia Museum). “I love cooking, so this is my favourite area,” says Aaryaman.

The most impressive part of the museum is the gilded Darbar hall with its two chandeliers, the largest pair in the world — that weigh 3.5 tonnes each and hold 300 bulbs each (cleaning one apparently takes three months!) — the ceiling being an architectural marvel because it’s able to support 7 tonnes of weight without any columns. “This room also has the world’s largest carpet,” says Aaryaman. “It was stitched by prisoners of Gwalior in the hall itself, in the traditional tribal style, with decorative borders.” About 2.5 tonnes of pure gold was melted and painted on the ceiling of the Darbar Hall, to give it its golden allure.

Another must-see in the museum includes the miniature silver train with crystal containers that runs on the dining table in the banquet hall. “Each container bears a letter from the name Scindia — so you have S, C, I, and so on,” says Aaryaman. “The containers serve whisky, cigarettes, chocolate, and if a guest wants to help themselves, the train stops for them.”

Away from start-ups, Aaryaman loves to travel, going on treks and kayaking. As a foodie and passionate home cook, he loves to rustle up dishes for family and friends. One of his favourites is a family recipe, a Maratha dish, a white curry-based mutton, cooked for six hours in cashew and almond paste. “We pair that with locally made bajra rotis from the tribal area, and makki ki roti from tribal areas of M.P.,” says Aaryaman. “The other dish I learned to make is yakhni pulao, and recently I cooked some lovely roast chicken with edamame pasta.”

Fashion-wise, the young Aaryaman loves to keep it casual — T-shirt and jeans, or T-shirt and track pants or a white kurta, if it’s really hot and he has to go to villages. When attending formal dos, he wears the traditional anga (a long flowing coat in silk and delicate brocade), worn with the crescent-shaped Gwalior pagri (turban).

He recently joined the state cricket board, as vice president of the Gwalior Division Cricket Association. “We are working on creating village-level as well as district-level tournaments in rural areas to scope out rural talent,” says Aaryaman. He’s also working on a mini IPL league within MP, with 4-5 teams competing — giving players earnings and a chance to showcase their talent.

For young cricketers who have made it to a certain level, Aaryaman helps secure jobs in companies so they don’t have the insecurity of livelihood and give up on sporting dreams. “We’ve been able to secure a few jobs with companies like Panasonic and Shiprocket,” says Aaryaman. “We had a new category for disabled cricket. It’s amazing to see these guys play in wheelchairs, they set an example for all of us watching.”

Besides sports, another passion is education: “I’m working with a couple of NGOs to transform government schools, and make them more tech-savvy,” says Aaryaman. It installs smart classes (with projectors, smart screens, better furniture), getting internet access, upgrading the tech infrastructure and training teachers.

“It’s important for an individual to be rooted, grounded, passionate, and future-forward. That is what I have based my whole philosophy on, for both my start-ups, and this reflects in my values,” he says.

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